Produced for ESPN and now available on dvd, Kobe Doin' Work
trained 30 cameras on NBA superstar Kobe Bryant for the course of a
full game, with commentary provided on the final cut by Bryant. The
game, pitting the Lakers against their longtime rivals the San Antonio
Spurs, would eventually lead to Bryant's first Most Valuable Player
award. After a screening of soccer documentary Zidane at the Cannes film
festival, legendary film-maker (and Knicks fan) Spike Lee decided a
basketball version was immediately necessitated. Since Lee's dabblings
in documentary film
(When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, Four Little Girls) has
produced even more incendiary work than the provocative narrative films
(Do the Right Thing, 25th Hour, Bamboozled) that cemented his
reputation as a film raconteur, news of his involvement in the
non-fiction form is always cause for excitement for those of us who
like to see the pot stirred. While it's not an entirely fair
comparison to draw, Bryant's checkered past, my
complete lack of interest in professional sports and the long shadow
cast by Tyson (James
Toback's brilliant documentary on boxer Mike Tyson), one can't help but
feel a little short-changed by such a straightforward sports
The enthusiasm and nearly scientific analysis in Bryant's commentary does convey a few interesting nuggets to even the most hardened professional sports hater. Despite these players and teams bringing in millions of dollars, their locker room looks like one in which high school players would congregate in. Many Lakers players have learned conversational Italian and Serbian to accommodate team members who struggle with English. Bryant's incredible graciousness towards the abilities of his competitors is downright gentlemanly. Otherwise, even Lee's interjections on the commentary track only serve to add more details about the actual process of the actual game.
On a recent panel at the Starz Denver Film Festival about believability in documentary film, film-maker AJ Schnack (in a discussion about Michael Moore) brought up the strange stratosphere that celebrity film-makers inhabit. In addition to garnering their projects an exponentially higher amount of publicity, they also regularly gain access to people and stories who might otherwise be considered too private to divulge. Chris Rock's participation in Good Hair is an excellent recent example of how this influence can lead to light being shed on difficult, personal subject matter and Bill Maher's Religulous being an equally strong example of how not to spend one's fame capital.
It's unlikely that a person who's recently been through a very public sexual assault trial would partipcate in any kind of documentary film project, even one with the modest aspirations of Kobe Doin' Work, if not for the credibility brought to the project by Lee. While viewers will walk away certainly knowing a bit more about shooting from the triangle, one might also wonder whatever happened to that raconteur of yore.
DVD extras include: an introduction by Spike Lee, deleted scenes, photo montage, music video for "Levitate" by Bruce Hornsby, a behind the scenes featurette and several audio options to watch the full game.
See also: September Issue, Murderball, Hoop Dreams, Bigger Stronger Faster, The Heart of the Game, Gunnin for That #1 Spot.